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Rodriguez attacks ‘Grim Sleeper’

Crime: Jury also hears testimony that the convicted child-murderer attacked prison guards

Posted: July 14, 2010 9:22 p.m.
Updated: July 15, 2010 4:30 a.m.
Antonio Rodriguez Antonio Rodriguez
Antonio Rodriguez

SAN FERNANDO — Convicted child-killer Antonio Rodriguez attacked suspected “Grim Sleeper” serial killer Lonnie Franklin while the two were being escorted from court by law enforcement officers last week, a Superior Court jury heard Wednesday.

“I think he may have scored some credibility points with the other inmates,” said Rodriguez’s defense lawyer, Robert A. Schwartz, during a break in court proceedings Wednesday. He added that his client felt compelled to attack the alleged serial killer.

It happened Friday at about 2:15 p.m., just 24 hours after a jury found 29-year-old Rodriguez guilty of sexually assaulting and killing 5-year-old Desarie Saravia.

Rodriguez punched Franklin, 57, twice in the side of the head after a sheriff’s deputy unlocked a handcuff on one of Rodriguez’s hands from a bench, a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy said.

“As I opened up the handcuff, his hand broke free and he lunged for Lonnie Franklin,” Deputy Ignacio Garcia said. “He then punched him twice in the side of the head with a closed fist.”

Garcia said he took Rodriguez “to the ground.”

The two men had been placed in a holding section of the Men’s Central Jail — Rodriguez with both hands handcuffed to a metal bench, and Franklin with both hands behind his back, handcuffed to a waist chain.

Franklin was arraigned that day on 10 counts of murder, one count of attempted murder and special-circumstance allegations of multiple murders that could make him also eligible for the death penalty.

Garcia told San Fernando Superior Court that he heard no words exchanged between the two men prior to the assault.
Jailhouse attack

News of Friday’s jailhouse attack followed testimony given by other deputies who recounted details of a jailhouse fight last year between Rodriguez, five deputies and another inmate.

Prosecutor Mary Sedgwick, in wrapping up her arguments in the death-penalty phase of the Rodriguez trial, focused most of her attention on the September 2009 scuffle in which Rodriguez lunged for a “shank” dropped by another inmate.

Deputy David Alvarez, assigned to the Men’s Central Jail, was leading Rodriguez and another inmate — who were both handcuffed to waist chains — from the jail’s law library back to a special holding cell designated for violent inmates.

“As we were walking down the hallway, (the other inmate) reached into his waistband and retrieved a shank — a jailhouse knife — I grabbed him and took him to the ground,” Alvarez said.

Deputy Alfonso Andrade, one of at least five deputies escorting the two inmates from the library, said when his partner jumped on the shank-wielding inmate, he saw Rodriguez move for the knife.

“I saw the deputy take the inmate to the ground, and I didn’t know why until I saw the shank. I then saw Rodriguez attempt to bend down to pick it up. He was able to bring his left and right hand parallel to his hips,” Andrade said.

“I took him to the ground, and I wanted to advise the other deputies so I yelled out ‘Shank! There’s a shank.’”

Andrade said he put his knee into Rodriguez’s back but that he “continued to struggle with his limbs flailing violently around. He was violently able to knock me off balance.

“He still wasn’t complying, so I had to punch him several times in the back.”

A third deputy testified that he finally subdued Rodriguez with “OC spray,” which he described as stronger than pepper spray.

A tortured childhood
The court learned that the violent episode was something all too familiar to Rodriguez growing up.

Schwartz began the first phase of his argument intended to keep Rodriguez from a death sentence by asking his client’s sister to describe their violent upbringing.

Alma Esquivel, five years older than Rodriguez, cried loudly and uncontrollably when asked to describe the brutality inflicted on her, her brother, her mother and other siblings by an abusive, hair-pulling and belt-wielding father.

“We grew up in a very abusive household. My dad would hit my mom,” she said, stopping abruptly to cry and moan.
Esquivel, one of seven Rodriguez children, struggled to testify but couldn’t stop sobbing on the witness stand.

Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Coen told her in a paternal but firm tone: “We’re going to have to get through this, so get yourself together.”

Esquivel said her father, before he left the family forever in 1987, would whip her with a belt on her back and on her legs.

“He was an animal,” she said of her father. “He was mean to us. He was verbally abusive to us. He never took us anywhere. He never said ‘I love you.’”

She told court that her father would whip Rodriguez and the other boys and force them to kneel on a brick for three to four hours at a time as disciplinary punishment.

“When he left and he never came back,” she said, “we were happy that he was gone.”

The murder
Desarie Elizabeth Saravia, 5, died Nov. 12, 2004, having suffered extensive injuries inflicted through burning, whipping and beating. She died as a result of a hard punch or kick to her abdomen that tore her intestines in a Castaic public bathroom.

Her bruised and scarred body was found naked on the lawn of a nearby home.

Desarie’s mother, Debby Saravia, was reportedly cleaning a house in Castaic the day she died. Debby Saravia is scheduled to tried separately in her daughter’s death.

Rodriguez, her boyfriend, was found guilty by a jury last Thursday of sexual assault, torture and murder in the girl’s death.

He was also convicted of having assaulted Desarie’s brother, Brian, who was 6 at the time.

No love lost
Brian Saravia, looking healthy in a starched bright white shirt, took the stand briefly for the prosecution Wednesday.

Sedgwick asked him: “When you went trick-or-treating the month before Desarie died, were you allowed to eat the treats?”

“Probably three pieces,” Brian told her.

On cross examination, Schwartz asked the boy if he was stressed about not seeing his mother.

“No,” he said without hesitation.

“It doesn’t cause any stress to you?” Schwartz asked again.

“No,” he said again.

Schwartz is expected to continue his line of questioning today.



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